Hookah Delivers More Smoke than Cigarettes

Andria Chen/Staff Illustrator

Bijan Sainee
Staff Writer

A recent study at the University of Pittsburg School of Medicine has found that the average hookah smoking session delivers about 125 times the smoke, 2.5 times the tar and ten times the amount of carbon monoxide than a single cigarette.

Hookah has grown in popularity amongst adolescents and young adults over the past 15 years, and continues to grow in these demographics. From 2011 to 2014, hookah use by high school students more than doubled from 4.1 percent to 9.4 percent; in the same span of time, cigarette use has decreased from 15.8 percent to 9.2 percent. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that monthly hookah use is higher than monthly cigarette use among high school students in the U.S. While questions have been raised about the practice’s hazards, hookah lounges continue to pop up around college campuses and urban environments.

“Hookah smoking was not included in the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey System questionnaire, which assesses cigarette smoking, chewing tobacco, electronic cigarettes and many other forms of substance abuse,” Brian Primack M.D, Ph.D, the lead author of the study said.

This observation suggests that the medical establishment can do more to inform young people about the studied health consequences that might result from regular hookah use. While the CDC names heart disease, respiratory diseases and a variety of cancers as risks of hookah smoking, the public perception remains that hookah smoking is safer than other forms of the habit.

Primack’s study does not show whether hookah smoking is worse for one’s health than cigarettes or other forms of tobacco smoking. It does, however, show that hookah smokers are exposed to toxins and carcinogens. Primack hopes that this information will lead to a more public awareness of hookah’s effects on the body. Furthermore, Primack, along with his co-authors, believes that an analogy between cigarette and hookah smoking is difficult to formulate.

“It’s not a perfect comparison because people smoke cigarettes and hookahs in very different way,” Primack said.

Hookah smoke is consumed differently from cigarette smoke in the sense that a hookah session may take hours, but remain an infrequent vice for the user. Cigarette smokers tend to smoke regularly, with a large variance in the number of cigarettes smoked.

One co-author of the study, Smita Nayak, M.D., stated that “a strength of meta-analysis is that it enables us to provide more precise estimates by synthesizing the currently available data from individual studies.”

Nayak, who has been practicing medicine for 15 years since she graduated from Rutgers University School of Medicine, believes that her study’s extensive exploration of prior independent studies on the matter can give the medical community a better understanding of hookah’s effects, and can also help health officials put forth more accurate information about the fastest growing form of tobacco use in the U.S.